Open Source Isn't Sustainable, but Software Freedom Is
There has been substantial recent discussion, both inside and outside of our community, about the “sustainability” of the Free, Libre, Open Source Software (FLOSS) infrastructure, which is the center of our work in this community. Explosive growth in the technology sector has yielded a small trickle down effect to increase interest, funding and adoption of FLOSS, while concerns about highly public bugs have jarred those who were not aware of the importance of FLOSS in every computer user’s daily life.
We’ve watched this before; nearly the exact same process occurred during the Dot Com Bubble of the late 1990s. Now as it was then, the FLOSS projects that fuel the phenomenon remain the goose laying the golden eggs, which allow (usually proprietary) new technologies built atop them to succeed.
The difference today is the keen awareness of technology industry leaders of FLOSS processes, governance, and culture. We experience in our FLOSS communities now a complex cultural, financial, and leadership melding of the Silicon Valley start-up mentality with our traditional, radical values of software liberation. Since this occurred slowly and organically, we are often stymied when we seek to delineate the ideologies and identify corporate manipulation.
As such, at the very moment of its greatest success, Open Source now exhibits many flaws and cracks. Fortunately, the strategies that historically sustained our communities on tiny budgets centered in charities remain viable, and are poised for resurgence. This talk investigates this complex political challenge our community faces and offers concrete ideas to prepare for changes on the horizon.
Bradley M. Kuhn, Software Freedom Conservancy
Bradley M. Kuhn is the Policy Fellow and Hacker-in-Residence at Software Freedom Conservancy and editor-in-chief of copyleft.org. Kuhn began his work in the software freedom movement as a volunteer in 1992, as an early adopter of Linux-based systems and contributor to various Free Software projects, including Perl. He worked during the 1990s as a system administrator and software developer for various companies, and taught AP Computer Science. Kuhn’s non-profit career began in 2000 at the Free Software Foundation (FSF). As FSF’s Executive Director from 2001–2005, Kuhn led GPL enforcement, launched its Associate Member program, and invented the Affero GPL. Kuhn began as Conservancy’s primary volunteer from 2006–2010, and became its first staffer in 2011. Kuhn holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Loyola University in Maryland, and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Cincinnati. Kuhn has a blog and co-hosts the audcast, Free as in Freedom.